Geopolitics: (Of) the Final Frontier

Geopolitics: (Of) the Final Frontier

The Space Force is really happening. President Trump recently signed a directive creating a new US Air Force unit dedicated to space defense. It's not quite the independent, sixth military branch Trump once touted, but its creation illustrates just how much the competition to dominate space is heating up.


With the US, China, Russia, and other aspiring space powers all vying for strategic and commercial control, space today is a whole lot like the sea was 400 years ago: a vast new frontier of competition with lots of opportunity and huge unknowns.

Here's a quick rundown of the big issues that governments are grappling with on the ethereal plane:

Military competition: Much of America's military dominance on earth relies on objects in orbit. Satellite-based communications, navigation, and early warning systems all help to defend the US homeland and project power around the world. But China and Russia are now challenging America's control in low earth orbit and beyond, with weapons that can knock out US satellites.

Iran and North Korea have also developed jamming systems that can mess with US equipment. It's not a total free-for-all: since the 1960s, international law has prohibited countries from putting weapons of mass destruction in space, or claiming territory or mounting weapons on the moon or other celestial bodies. Still, the new Space Force is another step in the creeping – and likely inexorable – militarization of the final frontier.

Commercial exploitation: But space isn't just about military competition, it's also a (quite literally endless) frontier of private sector commercial opportunity. Over the past decade, companies funded by Silicon Valley billionaires have massively reduced the cost of putting payloads into orbit. That's fueling interest in the commercial possibilities of new industries like space tourism or asteroid mining – and even one day colonizing Mars.

China's getting in on the action, too. In 2014, President Xi Jinping opened up the Chinese space market to private investment, sparking a startup boom. In coming decades, as new private sector players prepare to fan out across the solar system, it will further complicate governments' geopolitical calculations in space. For example, some critics already worry that US efforts intended to promote the private space industry, like a 2015 law that allows companies to exploit "space resources" like mineral-rich asteroids, could undermine the long-standing norm of space as a global commons, and make it harder for governments to address common challenges, like managing orbital debris.

The bottom line: Buckle up, because the geopolitics of space are only going to get more complicated.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What is the legacy of Colin Powell?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell tragically died of complications of COVID-19. He was the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first Black National Security Advisor and the first Black Secretary of State. And he leaves a legacy of a long career, dedicated almost entirely to public service.

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Can this guy defeat Viktor Orban? Hungary's opposition movement of odd bedfellows has finally settled on the person they think has the best chance of defeating PM Viktor Orbán at the ballot box: Péter Márki-Zay, a politically conservative small-town mayor from southeastern Hungary, who beat out left-leaning European Parliament member Klara Dobrev in a weekend poll. Márki-Zay has a lot going for him: as a devout Catholic and father of seven it will be hard for the ultraconservative Orbán to paint him as a progressive threat, even as Márki-Zay reaches out to reassure left-leaning groups that he will protect LGBTQ rights. What's more, Márki-Zay has little political baggage: until recently he was a marketing executive. But can the relatively inexperienced Márki-Zay keep the various opposition factions happy? The stakes couldn't be higher: since taking power more than a decade ago, Orbán has deliberately made Hungary into an "illiberal" state, cracking down on the press, undermining the rule of law, and clashing with the EU. Bonus: if Márki-Zay stays in the news, you get to say "Hódmezővásárhely" the name of the city he currently runs.

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5,600: Myanmar's military junta will release from prison 5,600 people who were jailed for protesting against last February's coup. The gesture, the first act of amnesty since the junta took power, comes just days after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which rarely interferes in members' internal affairs, said it would exclude the head of Myanmar's military from an upcoming regional meeting.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Happy Monday, everybody. And a Quick Take for you. I wanted to talk a bit about Taiwan. I'll tell you, I've talked about it in the media over the last couple of weeks and almost every questioner has been trying to prod me towards, "are we heading to war?" Then I was with some friends at the Trilateral Commission on Friday. I like that group a lot. It's one of these groups that a lot of conspiracy theorists pretend secretly run the world, like the Bilderbergers and the Council on Foreign Relations. Now having attended all three, I can tell you, if they do run the world, they are not inviting me into the rooms where they're making those decisions. If they are doing that, they're also doing a lousy job of it.

Nonetheless, it was fun until I was on stage and the first question I got was about, "Hey, so the Chinese are changing the status quo. Do you think that means we're heading towards war?" I just want to say that, first of all, I am clearly less concerned about the imminence of confrontation and military conflict between the United States and China than almost anybody out there. Accidents are certainly possible, but particularly around Taiwan, where both sides know the stakes and have made them abundantly clear for decades now, and everyone involved gets it I think it's much less likely.

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Colin Powell's legacy

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